Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of flagship NIF grantee Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and 16 other human rights activists were arrested and held for 36 hours after participating in a peaceful protest in East Jerusalem on Friday. The activists were finally released without charges on Sunday morning. The regular protests, held every Friday morning, oppose the recent eviction of Arabs in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah from properties that were handed over to Jewish settlers.
Outside Jerusalem’s Russian Compound police station, several hundred demonstrators from the NIF family demand the release of human rights activists, and protest police attempts to silence freedom of expression.
Judge Ilta Ziskind of the Jerusalem Magistrates Court rejected the police request for bail and ordered El-Ad and the other detainees to be released immediately without any charges. During the five-hour hearing, she also rejected the police request to keep activists away from Sheikh Jarrah for 60 days, and ruled that the police had been unable to show that the protestors endangered public order.
NIF worked intensively for the demonstrators' release throughout their 36 hour detention. In a statement to the media, NIF Israel Executive Director Rachel Liel said, "The swift use of police arrest in order to silence a civil protest, which was non-violent, must concern all those who are involved in civil rights across the political spectrum." While the court hearing was taking place, several hundred demonstrators from the NIF family held a protest outside the Jerusalem police station and courthouse. The demonstrators demanded the release of the activists and protested police attempts to quash freedom of expression.
After his release El-Ad commented, "The police are making up their own laws and harming democracy. The arrests in Sheikh Jarrah are simply the police flexing their muscles, illegal, and they violate freedom of expression and the right to demonstrate."
Even before the demonstrators were released, Boaz Okun, the legal commentator for Yediot Ahronot, Israel's largest circulation daily, wrote, "People that do just as they want are "dangerous people" according to the police. The truth that became clear is that the police themselves were doing just as they wanted and they are the danger. The police were using the arrests to pressure the demonstrators to stop demonstrating. That is improper use of arrest."
The Friday arrest came only 10 days after Anat Hoffman, executive director of NIF grantee Israel Reform Action Committee, was detained and interrogated by the police about activities relating to the Women of the Wall protests against ultra-Orthodox encroachment on public space at the Western Wall.
Watch a video of the demonstration where El-Ad was arrested: